When my teacher, Jeongbong Sunim, was growing up, seniors from his neighborhood used to always tell him this one thing. They used to always say, “What is making you so happy that you are always smiling?”
After studying under the Sunim for over 7 years, I realized that I can’t quite remember the time when he lost his smile. Looking back, we did not even notice that he was sick because he was always with a big smile.
Last time when we were doing a small construction work, a fork crane dropped it’s arm on Sunim’s foot. We were so surprised by this event that we quickly ran to see his condition. However, Sunim observed his feet here and there very briefly, and then began to comfort the surprised crowd instead. Even when he was on his way to take the X-rays, Sunim comforted the shocked and apologetic fork crane driver and said, “A monk studying the Dharma does not get fatally wounded. So, you do not have to worry too much.” and smiled. After he returned back from the hospital, Sunim first called the fork crane driver and told him “There is nothing wrong with my bones. Didn’t I tell you that I will be fine?” and smiled once again.
The same evening when the Sunim returned from the hospital, he addressed all of us who finished the days’ work and gathered at the main prayer hall. “In Heart Sutra, everything is seen as empty, so one does not need to care so much for the pain either. Then, do you think the pain exist or not exist for a person who realized emptiness?”
After we gave our own answers, Sunim told us a story. This story took place during the time when he used to practice in a cave.
One day, Sunim stepped on a persimmon tree growing in front the cave because he wanted to gather some of its leaves. He slipped on the tree that became very slippery after the rain, and fell a few hundred meters straight down the cliff. He could not even breathe properly because he broke his ribs during the fall. So he laid there without moving for at least a couple of days.
“If there were some people next to me and I was rushed to the hospital, I would have felt more pain. However, there was no one else who could help me and I did not have any choice, so I was forced to just lay there. But, you know what? I was so much at peace at that time. After laying there for a few days and nights, the wound healed spontaneously and I was able to crawl back out from the cave on my own.” Then, he pointed towards the hand written passage on his window:
< "Is there a place you can lean on? If there is, then you die! >
“But, if you do not have a place to lean on, then pain does not even exist. This is emptiness. If true emptiness is realized, one would only feel Compassion to help all sentient beings. Only after then, one will live to care for the pains of other sentient beings.”
This was very true. He not even once complained about his own pain to make other people worry. Even when he cut his hands while working, or when blood was gushing out of his head due to an injury, he would simply press it down on the injury and say “Hey, my Karma just got resolved. It feels so great.” then, he would show his glowing smile again.
After staying with such a great Sunim, I began to feel ashamed when I see myself lose my smile, get depressed, or become gloomy just because I feel some physical pain. As Sunim told us before, developing a happy mind that smiles all the time is similar to developing the Buddha nature. If you lose this precious smile, because of this and that reason, then how can we say that we are a true practitioner?
Once in a while, Sunim would ask me, “Is it very difficult?” Then, I would respond “No, it is not so difficult.” with a biggest smile that I can manage, so that I could at least imitate alike of him. When would I be able to develop into a great Bodhisattva that could take care of all sentient beings, under any circumstances? The following is a verse from the “37 Practices of the Bodhisattva”.
When you are down and out, held in contempt,
Desperately ill, and emotionally crazy,
Don't lose heart. Take into you
The suffering and negativity of all beings
-- This is the practice of a bodhisattva.
I also wish that I will be able follow the ways of the great Bodhisattvas or the great living Masters, and become a refugee for all sentient beings. I also wish to walk a path without any hesitations; the path to relieve all sentient being’s pain and suffering.